Saving Orca Whales: Extinction Via Bureaucratic Bungling and Stupidity

The following are two jaw dropping presentations by former Army Corps Engineer Jim Waddell. Prior to his retirement, Waddell assisted in preparing a seven-year $30 million  Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on four Snake River* dams that prevent salmon from returning upriver to breed. Released in 2002, the EIS explores a number of potential options for preventing impending salmon extinctions. Predictably the Army Corps rejected the cheapest and most effective, namely incrementally “breaching”** the four dams

The lower Snake River dams became operational between 1961 and 1975, with the goal of providing hydropower for Bonneville Power Administration.*** Ironically BPA has always produced a surplus of electricity, which until a decade ago they sold to California. With California’s big uptake of solar and wind generation, they no longer buy power from BPA. This means the dams operate at a loss to taxpayers.

On top of growing maintenance costs, the Army Corps of Engineers and BPA have spent $1 billion over the last 15 years on fish hatcheries and salmon recovery schemes that have done nothing to increase the salmon population.

Impending Orca Whale Extinction

Because declining Chinook salmon are their sole source of food, the resident Southern Orca population also began to crash in the early 1990s. Orca calves essentially starve to death before they can reach maturity. The current population has been steady at 75 since the species was first declared endangered in 2002.

Orca biologists estimate the whales need 580,000 Chinook salmon a year to breed successfully. At present, the Snake River is only returning 40,000 per year to the ocean.

December 1 Deadline to Breach Two Dams

When the first video was made two years ago, Waddell was stressing an the urgent need to breach the first dam by October 2016 – with a plan to breach the other three in successive years. Owing to the deteriorating condition of the 20 breeding Orcas, he now maintains the two lowest damns must be breached by December 1, 2018. He estimates this would return 1-3 million Chinook to the ocean after 8-12 months.

The entire cost of the operation would be funded by the Army Corps of Engineers and BPA – in lieu of costly dam maintenance and costly and ineffective salmon recovery schemes – at great savings to taxpayers.

Although maintaining the four dams is extremely wasteful to taxpayers and of no real economic benefit to business or farming interests, dam breaching is being blocked by a handful of professional lobbyists and bureaucrats in Washington governor Jay Inslee’s office and Washington senator Patty Murray’s office.

You can sign a petition supporting the urgent dam breaches at Time is Running Out


*The Snake River is a major river of the greater Pacific Northwest and the largest tributary of the Columbia River.

**In the first video, Waddell explains the difference between “breaching” and “removing” a dam. The latter is prohibitively expensive. In contrast, breaching only requires two bulldozers to dig a notch in the earthen berm to one side of the dam. This allows the river to flow around the dam.

***The Bonneville Power Administration is a US federal agency operating in the Pacific Northwest charged with marketing power produced by the Snake River dams and constructing facilities necessary to transmit that power.

 

The second video is an August 14, 2018 update on the Snake River dam controversy.

 

 

 

The Crumbling of America

Crumbling America

Directed by Henry Schipper (2009)

Film Review

This is a compelling, though somewhat melodramatic, documentary about crumbling US infrastructure – especially its bridges, roads, levees, dams, water delivery systems, sewage systems, and power grid. The US presently spends less on infrastructure (2% of GDP) than the developing countries China (9%) and India (8%). The percentage of GDP Americans spend on infrastructure has declined from 12% in 1960.

Most bridges, superhighways and water and sewage pipes are designed to last 50 years, and many are approaching or have exceeded their expected lifespan. There are no programs to repair vital levees along the Mississippi River and in California. A 6.9 earthquake would totally destroy San Francisco’s earthwork levees, contaminating all southern California’s drinking water, as well as destroying acres of prime agricultural land.

Shoddy maintenance of urban water and sewage systems leads to hundreds of thousands of leaks per year, especially in eastern rust belt cities. While parts of the national electrical grid are subject to ever more frequent and lengthy power failures due to poor maintenance and obsolete switches, sensors, data systems and transformers and rotting utility poles.

Reaching the Wrong Conclusion

Despite the wealth of data they present, I strongly disagree with the filmmakers’ conclusion: that taxpayers need to front up with trillions of dollars to repair America’s crumbling infrastructure. I strongly believe this massive decay presents a unique opportunity to replace 100-year-old technologies with cheaper, more efficient, people-friendly 21st century technology.

For example, I totally disagree with their assertion that the electrical grid was “the greatest infrastructure achievement of the 20th century.”  Besides being one of the most inefficient infrastructure projects ever invented (according to the EPA the US power system loses approximately 67% of the power it creates), the grid was never intended to serve the public – it was intended to increase the sale of electricity and electrical products, as well as consolidating the control of production and distribution in the hands of Wall Street corporations (see Reclain the Commons: Take Back the Grid). The renewable energy revolution, which enables households and neighborhood to produce their own solar energy, also allows ordinary people to control its destruction.

Likewise our totally gridlocked super highways don’t need to be rebuilt – they need to be replaced with cheaper and more efficient and climate-friendly high speed and computer trains and buses.

While inefficient and unhealthy (adding chlorine to our water creates a variety of dangerous chlorinated organic compounds) water delivery and sewage systems need to be replaced with more modern technologies that allow us to recycle our water instead of pouring it down the drain.

Debunking Large Scale Hydroelectric Dams

 

Damocracy

Directed by Todd Southgate and Tolga Temugle (2013)

Film Review

Damocracy is a documentary debunking the myth that large scale hydroelectric dams combat global warming by producing emission-free electric power. In reality, they create massive amounts of methane by flooding and killing large areas of vegetation. Because methane is a far more dangerous greenhouse gas than CO2, it takes approximately 41 years for a dam to produce any net benefit for the climate.

The film focuses on global protest movements which have formed in reaction to two specific dam projects: Ilisu on the Tigris River in Turkey and Belo Monte in Brazil.

In addition to displacing more than 35,000 rural residents, the Ilisu Dam would flood more than 300 unique Mesopotamian heritage sites. It would also aggravate water shortages in southern Iraq and Iran.

The Belo Monte dam would displace 40,000 indigenous people, virtually destroying 18 distinct ethnic cultures.

Despite strong support for the Bel Monte dam by former president Dilma Rousseff, mass popular resistance forced her government to discontinue the Bel Monte project in April 2016.

Turkish president Recep Erdogan continues construction on Turkey’s Ilisu Dam despite UN and high court rulings ordering him to desist. Ongoing local and international protests have significantly delayed the damn’s completion, originally slated for 2015.

See Corporate Watch and Iraqi civil society.